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Archive for February, 2010

The last three mornings, at about 6:15 AM, I’ve been watching the asteroid Vesta during my early morning walk with Pluto (our dog, not the dwarf planet). I’ve also taken quick glimpses around 11:30 PM after returning home from work. You, too, can spot it easily with binoculars with the aid of a link from this Sky and Telescope article. Vesta has just “threaded the needle” between the star marking the “shoulder” of Leo the Lion and a dimmer nearby star. It’s easy to see Vesta’s progress from night to night, though its current apparent movement is mostly due to the Earth’s own motion. Planets and asteroids whose orbits are outside Earth’s orbit generally move from West to East across the starry background as they orbit the Sun, but when we overtake them there’s a time of apparent retrograde motion, and that’s the stage Vesta is in right now. If you’re driving at, say, 55 miles an hour down the highway, and you pass someone who’s only going 50, they will seem to be going backwards, even though they’re really going forward. The same basic thing is currently happening right now, and causing Vesta’s apparent motion to be from East to West for the next month and a half.

If you try looking for Vesta, you don’t have to get up before dawn like I do. At about 10-11 PM Leo will be clearly visible and high in the sky as viewed from North America. Note that Mars and Saturn are also in the sky, Mars shining brightly and reddishly, high in the sky at midnight, to the West-Northwest of Vesta, and Saturn a little further in the opposite direction, to Vesta’s East-Southeast.

Astronomy is a good hobby for developing serenity. Celestial events can be predicted centuries ahead of time, but it might be cloudy that night, or you might have to work. Que sera sera.

Anyway, Vesta is my second asteroid, as I spotted Juno for the first time last September.

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This article first appeared in the West Douglas County Record on February 4, 2010:

There’s something to be said for traveling light. Two years ago we moved back to Minnesota after 6 1/2 years in South Dakota, and about a week before Moving Day I realized that we had about twice as much “stuff” as I thought we did. I had hoped that we could move everything in a few trips with our pickup and trailer, but it was not to be. Not only did we need to rent a U-Haul truck, we needed to rent the largest size available! For two years some of our stuff sat in a rented storage unit, but now that we have a garage with room for storage, I was able to empty and vacate the storage unit this past weekend, leaving us with one less bill to pay.

So now we’re rediscovering some of our stuff. Some of it is useful, and some of it we can do without. Our new apartment is just big enough for the stuff we really need, and just small enough to give us some incentive to get rid of the excess. Everything gets sorted into categories: “Throw away,” “Recycle,” “Give away,” “Sell,” and “Keep.” Slowly but surely I’ve been discovering that there’s a light, free feeling that comes with getting rid of unneeded stuff, but I have a long way to go. If there’s a such a thing as “Packrats Anonymous,” please refer me to the nearest meeting, because that’s me!

One of my largest “To Keep” items is a rather large telescope that my Dad built for me 30 years ago, with just a little help from me. I used it a lot in my teens, then it sat idle for a number of years until 2003, when I pulled it out of mothballs to view Mars when it made its closest approach to Earth for thousands of years. That event resurrected my old astronomy hobby, and I’ve been using my big telescope often ever since, but it weighs 95 pounds and is awkward to carry. So in 2007 I bought it a “little sister,” a small telescope that I found at WalMart. Though it doesn’t match the sheer grandeur of viewing celestial objects through the big telescope, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well it does show the Moon’s craters, Saturn’s rings, Jupiter’s largest moons, and many other wonders of the heavens. I even made my first confirmed sighting of faint, distant Neptune with the small telescope instead of the large one, simply because at five pounds it was the easiest to carry to the darkest part of the yard!

Our spiritual lives can be hindered by things we don’t want to let go of, bad habits that are hard to break, misplaced priorities, and burdens that are too heavy for us to bear. God invites us to travel light; “For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light,” Matthew 11:30; “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ,” Galatians 6:2; “let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfector of our faith” Hebrews 12:1-2 (all RSV).

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This article first appeared in the West Douglas County Record on January 21, 2010:

I don’t follow sports all that much, but I do get caught up in the excitement when the home team is doing well. This past Sunday, as I was on my visitation rounds, I somehow found myself at the home of parishioners whose TV I knew would be tuned in to the big game.

After the Vikings’ rather lopsided victory over the Dallas Cowboys, the TV commentators briefly debated whether or not the Vikings should have kept on “running up the score” even after the Vikings were clearly going to win. The answer seemed clear enough to me. These people are professional athletes, paid well to entertain the fans by playing their sport at a high skill level. They ought to keep on doing their job until it’s time to clock out, just like the rest of us. The winning team should keep up their momentum, and the losing team should never give up.

I’m sure that the Cowboys’ loss stung, but I don’t think it would have stung any less if the Vikings had held back in the last few minutes. In fact, that might have been insulting. I lived in Texas for two years, and I don’t think the Texans I knew would have wanted to be coddled. The Cowboys franchise has a glorious history, including five Super Bowl victories. That’s five more than the Vikings have won, so far. They’re perfectly capable of reaching those heights once again, but it will never happen if the opposing teams don’t keep on challenging them. As they say on the rodeo circuit, “Cowboy up!”

God strengthens us through trials and challenges: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another,” Proverbs 27:17; “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” James 1:2. St. Paul must have been a sports fan. He sounds like one in I Corinthians 9:24-25: “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.”

Some years back the International Basketball Federation approved professional players, opening the door for the USA’s Olympic “Dream Team.” At the time I wasn’t so sure that I agreed. I thought it would always be a “slam dunk” for the USA team from then on, and at first it was. Soon, though, other teams rose to the challenge, and the “Dream Team” is no longer undefeated, nor always the champion. The Dream Team brought everyone up to new heights. Where can we find the strength to face each challenge? “Those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint” Isaiah 40:31 (all NIV).

By the way; my in-laws in Indiana are cheering for the Colts, and I’m OK with that.

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